Council Letter to Petitioners

Last week I heard back from SBL Executive Director John Kutsko regarding the petition to urge SBL to develop specific policies regarding those institutions with which it will do business–in particular, that the SBL as a society should not conduct business with institutions that reject the basic tenets of academic freedom nor those that discriminate against LGBTQ persons (or any other group).   The official letter from SBL Council is quoted below in its entirety.

27 April 2016

Dear Prof. Matthew Neujahr,

At its April meeting, the SBL Council discussed in detail the petition you submitted in January.

We extended our usual meeting schedule by a half day in order to attend to the important concerns it raised.

The Council determined that SBL needs a Statement on Academic Freedom to help guide our work in a way that is consistent with the Society’s mission, values and policies as an international learned society. To this end, the Council named a subcommittee to draft a statement that defines academic freedom for SBL in an international context. The subcommittee will consult with SBL members in the course of its work and will present its draft for discussion and approval to the SBL Council at our next meeting in October 2016. The statement will allow Council to address specific points raised by the petition and to draw up a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that states explicitly the expectations SBL will have in place for potential host institutions, regional and international.

As this work moves forward, the Council is also clarifying the administrative relationship of the 11 North American Regions with the Society, balancing the autonomy the regions enjoy and their responsibilities to the Society in selecting a venue to hold a regional meeting. These responsibilities are: (1) to consult widely with SBL members in the regions to select a suitable host institution; (2) to exclude any institution under an existing censure by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) or the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), according to location; and (3) to affirm and to document with a signed interim MOU that SBL will only meet at institutions where no restrictions are placed on participation or programming. Regions not conforming to these expectations would not be permitted to use the name or logo of SBL. These requirements will also guide staff in selecting institutional hosts for the SBL International Meeting.

In regards to the jointly owned and managed AAR-SBL Employment Services, which seeks to maximize employment opportunities for all members, those services conform to the 1940 AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom, which permits “[l]imitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution,” while requiring that they “should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment,” and reflect later commentary by AAUP on the original statement and cases they have reviewed. Therefore the AAR-SBL Employment Services requires, at minimum, that employers acknowledge in their job postings any such limitations to academic freedom so that SBL and AAR members may be fully aware of them before they make an application, and that employers confirm that these are available in writing at the time of the appointment. The SBL Council may review these standards and initiate discussion with AAR following the establishment of an SBL Statement on Academic Freedom.

SBL Council will continue to address the important matters the petition has raised. We care deeply about supporting our members and serving the mission and values of this international learned society that all of our members, together, constitute.

Efrain Agosto
Ehud Ben Zvi
Marc Brettler
Gay Byron
Mary Foskett, Chair
Michael Fox, Vice President
Steven Friesen, Secretary
Beverly Gaventa, President
Judith Newman
Jorunn Økland
Dan Schowalter
Greg Sterling
Gerald West
Sidnie White Crawford
John F. Kutsko, ex officio


Firstly, I would like to extend my thanks to SBL Council, and Executive Director Kutsko in particular, for the seriousness with which they took the petition.  I would also like to say that the tone of the letter is extremely positive and this is a promising first step.

I’ll have more thoughts on the specifics of the letter in this space later in the week!


4 thoughts on “Council Letter to Petitioners

  1. This is excellent news! The Council has been very responsive to the concerns raised in the petition, and in a positive way to boot. Thank you for initiating the petition.


  2. This is surprising and very welcome news, esp after the worries folks here raised. It’s a praiseworthy decision, for sure.


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